Artist's rendering of "The Big Tent" in which the Atlanta Opera will perform this fall. (video capture, Felipe Barral/TAO)

The Atlanta Opera launches fully revised “open air” season

Mark Gresham | 1 SEP 2020 @ 12:01am ET (last update: 3:40pm ET)

ATLANTA– This morning, The Atlanta Opera announced the roll-out of its 2020-21 season, but not the one that was announced only five months ago, in early April. In response to the pandemic and limits on large gatherings, the company has moved that previously announced 2020-21 season in its entirety to 2021-22.

In its place, the company offering a completely reconfigured season that’s intended to enable exceptional music and storytelling while prioritizing the health and safety of its audiences, performers and backstage personnel, with performances presented in a new, “open air” 240 -seat venue: a custom-made tent without walls that allows fresh air to wash through the venue at all times while still providing the audience both social distancing protection from the weather.


Billing it as their Big Tent Series, general & artistic director Tomer Zvulun has built a season that pairs well-known chamber operas with more experimental and often satirically-biting choices – an approach which draws upon the company’s successful track record of experimentation of its critically acclaimed Discoveries series of smaller, seldom seen works performed in alternative venues, while addressing the company’s charge to “reimagine” opera.

The season will include six productions overall. The cast for each production will include members of the recently announced Atlanta Opera Company Players, a new ensemble of world-class talent hired for the duration of the season, rather than per production, all of whom reside in the Atlanta metro area or the greater Southeast region.

In addition to the live performances, the shows will be directed for film by Zvulun in a ream collaboration with bass-baritone Ryan McKinny and videographer Felipe Barral.

“I believe that crisis reveals character and provides opportunities for change,” says Zvulun. “This pandemic has devastated so many lives and businesses. But it has also been a major catalyst in accelerating our shift to a business model that we have been discussing for years: creating a company of players, performing in non-traditional spaces and developing our video and streaming capabilities.”


The season opens with Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci performed in repertory with The Kaiser of Atlantis, a biting satire with music by Viktor Ullmann and libretto by Peter Kien. Each production will receive nine performances, alternating nightly – a total of 18 performances between them, performed on the campus of Oglethorpe University from October 22 through November 14.

Here are the schedules of each:

  • Pagliacci
    October 22, 24, 28, 30, November 1, 5, 7, 11 & 13
    All performances begin at 7:30pm
    Approximately 75 minutes
    Music and libretto by Ruggero Leoncavallo
    Conductor: Rolando Salazar; Stage Director: Tomer Zvulun; Cast: Reginald Smith Jr. (Tonio), Richard Trey Smagur (Canio), Talise Trevigne (Nedda), Joseph Lattanzi (Silvio), Megan Marino (Beppe)
  • The Kaiser of Atlantis
    October 23, 25, 29, 31, November 4, 6, 8, 12 & 14
    All performances begin at 7:30pm
    Approximately 55 minutes
    Music by Viktor Ullmann
    Libretto by Peter Kien
    Conductor: (TBA); Stage Director: Tomer Zvulun; Cast: Michael Mayes (Emperor Overall), Kevin Burdette (Death), Alek Shrader (Harlequin), Daniela Mack (The Drummer), Jasmine Habersham (Girl), Calvin Griffin (he Loudspeaker), Brian Vu (A Soldier)

“It’s not a coincidence that we chose a circus tent in an open field as our performance environment this season,” says Zvulun. “Beyond the practical reasons of safety, mobility, and scale, the circus represents a certain grit, a certain perseverance. At present, artists have been thrown into the most frightening, unexpected eras in our lifetime and by choosing to perform, while maintaining safety and social distancing, we are saying something about our community: Atlanta needs art, Atlanta needs live performance. This community, these artists are nimble enough, creative enough, gritty enough to find a way.”

The remaining four productions, to be announced later, are scheduled for the early and late spring.

Video: The Atlanta Opera announces The Big Tent Series

YouTube: TAO promotional video.

Click the “expand” button in lower right corner to enlarge (recommended)

Putting Safety First

Safety protocols and procedures for the Big Tent Series were developed by a Health & Safety Advisory Task Force of epidemiologists, public health specialists, and doctors assembled to advise the company on its health and safety protocols.

Each production will rely on a small cast and reduced orchestra – usually fewer than eight singers and a dozen orchestra members. None will run longer than two hours. There will be no intermissions. Performances will have staggered audience entry times, touchless customer interactions, and no intermissions. Masks will be required of audience members at all times.

Inside the venue, audience will be seated in physically distanced “circles pods” large enough to accommodate up to four seats. Premium Pods include four seats and a table while Chair Pods include four seats.


Tickets for the fall productions will go on sale at 10 am, September 9, and can be purchased online at or by calling 404-881-8885. Per Circle Pod pricing includes seating for up to four people, with ticket prices starting at $149 per pod. Availability is limited due to capacity constraints and social distancing requirements.

All six productions will also be captured on video with the intent to create and share filmed performances with broader audiences. Digital subscriptions to the series of videos, including all six productions plus exclusive behind the scenes content, will be available for $99 for the year ($50 for current Atlanta Opera subscribers). ■